Happening in Education – An Empirical Study

by Martin Blaszk (Author)
©2021 Monographs 234 Pages
Series: Gdańsk Studies in Language, Volume 18


The book describes an empirical study which inquired into the involvement of secondary school learners in the planning, preparation and enactment of two happenings. The study took the form of particpatory action research and used a data collection strategy based upon bricolage and the rhizome. Analysis was made of photographs, artefacts and posts from a blog, resulting from happening project sessions. Data was also gathered using auto-narrative, autobiographical interviews and group discussions. The data was interpreted in connection with educational discourses: critical pedagogy, teaching as a liminal practice and creative pedagogy. The research showed the learners were personally and actively involved in the happening project in contrast to what normally occurred in school lessons.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • 0.1. Happening in a Gdańsk School
  • 0.2. From Happening to a Research Project
  • 0.3. Outline of the Chapters
  • Citation Code
  • People Involved
  • Collected Data
  • 1. The Research Strategy
  • 1.1. The Aim and Methodology of Research
  • 1.2. A Pilot Study
  • 1.3. The Main Study
  • 1.3.1. Original Conception
  • 1.3.2. A Difficulty Encountered
  • 1.3.3. Form of the Main Study and Collection of Data
  • 1.3.4. Research Techniques
  • Autobiographical Interviews and Group Discussions
  • The Blog
  • Use of the English Language
  • 1.4. Overview of the Research Project
  • 1.5. Concluding Remarks
  • 2. Three Happenings and Education
  • 2.1. Two School Happenings9 and a Pilot Happening
  • 2.1.1. The First School Happening: Tolerancja (Tolerance)
  • 2.1.2. The Second School Happening: Niggle Happening
  • 2.1.3. The Pilot Happening: Polish Immigration/Imigracja Polski
  • 2.2. Links to the Characteristics of Happening
  • 2.3. Links to Education
  • 2.3.1. School Happenings
  • 2.3.2. Pilot Happening
  • 2.4. Participant Voices #1: Reactions to the Happenings
  • 2.4.1. Contact with the Outsider: School Happenings
  • 2.4.2. Contact with the Outsider: Pilot Happening
  • 2.4.3. Personal Intelligences: School Happenings
  • 2.4.4. Personal Intelligences: Pilot Happening
  • 2.4.5. Summary
  • 2.5. The Complex Limen of Happening in Relation to Education
  • 2.6. Concluding Remarks
  • 3. The Happening Project in a School
  • 3.1. Setting Up the Happening Project in a School
  • 3.1.1. Meeting the Participants for the First Time
  • 3.1.2. Happening Project Programme and Covering Letter
  • 3.1.3. An Explanation of the Programme
  • 3.2. Planning and Preparation for the School Happenings: Locations and Activities
  • 3.2.1. Locations for the Happening Project Sessions
  • Theatre Workshop
  • Classrooms
  • Comparisons with the Street
  • Back in School
  • 3.2.2. Activities in the Sessions and Factors Governing Their Choice
  • Happening and Its Characteristics: The Pilot Happening
  • English Teaching
  • Procedural Notes, Openness and Responsiveness to the Participants
  • 3.3. Concluding Remarks
  • 4. Semester 1: A Selection of Activities
  • 4.1. Preparing the Participants for Further Involvement
  • 4.1.1. Activity 1: A Mingle
  • 4.1.2. Activity 2: Story Creation Using Objects
  • 4.1.3. Activity 3: Standing Like People in a Picture
  • 4.1.4. Activities 1, 2 and 3: Educational Discourses
  • 4.2. Working on Ideas for the Happening
  • 4.2.1. Activity 4: Poster Creation
  • 4.3. Participant Voices #2: A Complex Picture of Participation
  • 4.4. Negotiating the Happening
  • 4.4.1. Activity 5: “Blog-tivity”
  • Ideas for the Happening
  • Looking at What Has Been Produced So Far and Further Research and Development
  • 4.4.2. Activity 6: A Discussion
  • Uses of the Blog
  • 4.5. Participant Voices #3: Greater Control Over the Sessions
  • 4.6. Rehearsing the Happening
  • 4.6.1. Activity 7: Happening Rehearsal
  • 4.7. Concluding Remarks
  • 5. Semester 2: A Selection of Activities
  • 5.1. Overview
  • 5.2. Participant Voices #4: Weak Framing
  • 5.3. Ideas for a Happening
  • 5.3.1. Activity 8: A Mingle
  • 5.4. Subverted Intentions
  • 5.4.1. Activity 9: A Discussion
  • 5.4.2. Activity 10: Editing the Tolerance Video
  • 5.5. Something “Normal” and “Real”
  • 5.5.1. Activity 11: Exercises from a Grammar-Vocabulary Resource Book
  • 5.6. Participant Voices # 5: A Ritual of Competition
  • 5.7. Giving and Receiving Feedback
  • 5.7.1. Activity 12: Assessment
  • Assessment 1
  • Assessment 2
  • 5.8. Participant Voices # 6: The Teacher as Liminal-Servant?
  • 5.9. Concluding Remarks
  • 6. Discussion
  • 6.1. Participant Involvement in Happening
  • 6.2. Participant Involvement in Relation to Prevailing Discourses Within Education
  • 6.2.1. Contact with Other People and Working Individually
  • 6.2.2. A Chance to Express One’s Own Views
  • 6.2.3. A Choice of Topics and Ways to Explore Them
  • 6.2.4. Creative Involvement
  • 6.3. Planning and Preparation for Happenings Created in an Educational Setting
  • 6.3.1. Changes to the Programme
  • 6.4. Activities: Facilitation of the Happenings and Support of a Subject Area
  • 6.4.1. Activities which Facilitated the Preparation and Planning of the Happenings
  • Activities and Educational Discourses
  • Sessions in Contrast to Lessons
  • 6.4.2. How the Activities Supported the Exploration of a Subject Area
  • 6.5. Concluding Remarks
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 1 Happening Project Programmes
  • Appendix 2 Covering Letter
  • Appendix 3 Words and Phrases for Speaking
  • Appendix 4 Procedural Notes for an Activity and a Session that Did Not Occur
  • References
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index
  • Series index

←11 | 12→←12 | 13→


Tab. 1:Overview of the research project as a whole

Fig. 1:Theatre workshop – general layout

Fig. 2:Procedural notes, activity 1, session 1

Fig. 3:Procedural notes, activity 2, session 2

Fig. 4:Procedural notes, activity 3, session 4

Fig. 5:Procedural notes, activity 4, session 3

Fig. 6:Procedural notes, activity 4, session 4

Fig. 7:Procedural notes, activity 4, session 5

Fig. 8:Sessions 3, 4, and 5 – Theatre Workshop layout

Fig. 9:Procedural notes, activity 6, session 6

Fig. 10:Procedural notes, activity 7, session 9

Fig. 11:Notes written during the mingle activity, activity 8, session 20

Fig. 12:Procedural notes, activity 8, session 20

Fig. 13:Areas to be considered for a discussion

Fig. 14:Procedural notes, activity 11, session 22

Fig. 15: Criteria for assessment given in the covering letter (Appendix 2) accompanying the happening project programme

Fig. 16:An example of the written feedback-assessments that were handed out to participants in Session 24

Fig. 17:Procedural notes, session 12, semester 1

Fig. 18:Procedural notes, session 24, semester 2

Fig. 19:Original version

Fig. 20:Variation one – linear model

Fig. 21:Variation two – process orientated model

Fig. 22:Variation three – looser configuration

Fig. 23:Covering letter for happening project

Fig. 24:Procedural notes, session 13, activity 9

Fig. 25:Procedural notes, session 23←13 | 14→

Photographs 1–3:Photographs taken during the author’s Niggle Happening

Photographs 4–9:Photographs taken during the participants’ versions of Niggle Happening

Photographs 10 and 11:Frames from the video of the happening – Polish Immigration/Imigracja Polski

Photographs 12–15:Arrangements of furniture in the Theatre Workshop during sessions in semester 1. 12. Session 9 – looking towards the front of the Theatre Workshop at the stage, layout with rows of chairs; 13. Session 6 – furniture in the process of being removed; 14. Session 7 – looking towards the back of the Theatre Workshop, layout with tables and chairs; 15. Session 12 – looking towards the back of the Theatre Workshop, tables and chairs arranged at the back of the workshop for participants to work on video editing. The photograph also shows a display specially prepared for exchange visitors from a school in France

Photograph 16:Sitting in a circle – the “default position” for seating

Photographs 17 and 18:Carrying out a pronunciation activity at the back of a physics classroom in semester 2, session 2

Photographs 19–21:Taking advantage of existing classroom layouts. 19. Semester 2, session 16 – watching a DVD in the French classroom; 20. Semester 1, session 11 – a table and two chairs on the stage of the Theatre Workshop used for interviews; 21. Semester 2, session 22 – the participants sit how and where they want

Photographs 22–25:The participants lead the session by taking control of the audio-visual equipment and sitting and moving about as they want. I give advice in connection with subtitling

Photograph 26:Participants create stories based on different objects – activity 2, session 2←14 | 15→

Photographs 27 and 28:Participants are instructed to stand like people in a picture – activity 3, session 4

Photograph 29:Participants work on their posters

Photograph 30:One of the posters “exhibited” on the wall with mirrors

Photograph 31:Participants move around posters placed upon tables and add ideas

Photograph 32:An “edited” poster

Photograph 33:Participants work with torn up posters to create a “definitive version”

Photograph 34:The “definitive version” poster

Photograph 35:A photograph chosen by Natalia that shows me as “not a teacher like a teacher teacher,” semester 1, session 2

←15 | 16→←16 | 17→


At the junction between two corridors of a Gdańsk lower secondary school, a loud chorus of voices can be heard coming down one of the corridors. The junction is crowded with pupils either standing and talking to each other or simply moving on somewhere else. Through this crowd, people in white tops become noticeable. They are marching towards the junction. The chorus of voices comes from the file of marchers. As they reach the junction, pupils part to let them pass. Some of the marchers are carrying white flags on flagpoles or bags. An older person, the marchers’ teacher, is walking beside the group. The marchers populate the junction and continue chanting. A number of them appear to be wearing smart white blouses and shirts, while others are wearing tops of dark blue or black. The teacher is dressed in a smart black dress. The marchers form a circle round an open space at the centre of the group and continue to chant. There must be approximately twenty of them including the teacher, who is standing as part of the group. The marchers continue to chant. They are all involved, a number of them are smiling or laughing. They continue to march on the spot in the similar energetic way they marched down the corridor to the junction.1

0.1. Happening in a Gdańsk School

It is towards the end of November of 2006 in a lower secondary school (gimnazjum) in Gdańsk. It is the first break and I am standing on a landing, a junction between two corridors and the stairwell. It is crowded with pupils either standing and talking to each other or simply passing through. I am here to film a happening that is scheduled to take place. I know very little about the happening; the information written on the poster – Happening. Day 23.XI.06. Next to room 23 in the first long break. Class IB. I film the happening.

The initial action of the happening, as given in the description above, continues with small groups from the marchers entering the space they have formed at their centre and carrying out particular activities: a group of three greet each other and start talking, from the gestures they use they might even be consoling one another; a pair, male and female, write something on a piece of paper, the male marcher bends over to present his back as a surface for the female marcher to write on; from time to time small groups of marchers come together in the ←17 | 18→central area and shout out or chant slogans; the people holding white flags, or carrying bags, throw them into the central space and later reclaim them before marching away. The teacher is also active. Some of the time it looks as if she is simply moving within the central space, at other times she might be directing. At one particular point, she appears to be offering the marchers an opportunity to speak, stretching out her arm towards different people as if she is holding a microphone. In addition to this, when the “petition” is written by the two marchers, she takes it from them and holds it up for everyone to see. The audience is also active during the happening. They press in on the happeners, smiling and laughing, joining in the chants or bobbing up and down to the rhythms that exist, they also make clenched fist salutes.

Essentially, this was my first and (up until the time I started my research project) only experience of a happening in the Polish system of education. In addition to this, my attendance was more by accident than design as they needed someone to film it. Therefore, my own involvement in performance and happenings, from the point of view of the teacher and pupils, had little to do with my presence there; more the fact that I had a video camera and knew how to use it. There was also an element of luck involved, as happenings do not occur often, even in classes like this one, which had a theatrical profile. The reason it took place then, was a result of the teacher’s enthusiasm rather than anything else. Whatever the reasons for the happening and my being there, I was fortunate enough to witness it, so that it became one of the initial inspirations for my research project. And indeed, the major part of this inspiration was the questions that it raised about how the teacher and the pupils were involved, and how they had actually come to decide upon the form and content, as much as the happening (the end product) itself.

0.2. From Happening to a Research Project

From my own experience of working with other happeners preparing for enactments, I was aware that the development of an idea into a happening was neither a simple nor straightforward process, especially if there are a number of different people involved and all them have contributing rights. How do you maintain the openness and looseness of structure to allow different people with different ideas, and different forms and types of energy (skills and talents), come together, decide upon, and then enact a happening? All the more so, since features such as the acceptance of others and the ability to work together, as well as receptiveness to new ideas and having the competencies to realize one’s own ideas, are some that are now called for in education. And here I am thinking of ←18 | 19→world, European as well as Polish aspirations: the Jacques Delor’s (1996) report for UNESCO and the reiteration of a number of its key points in a further report from Swati Narayan (2012), the European Policy Documents and Key Competences for Education which appeared at the beginning of the millennium (2009), and the introductions to the Polish curricula written by Zbigniew Marciniak (2013, 2014) that were published at the beginning of the reforms to education in Poland in 2009.

Moreover, when it comes to locating happening in the Polish system of schooling, which is in the main instrumental and authoritarian in its approach,2 would it actually be allowed onto the premises, let alone maintain the very qualities I experienced/believed to be at its heart, when it is put into practice? Would not these qualities simply lose out to the imposition of an idea and its enactment, so that whatever was created would be at best formulaic or at worst, a forced activity, without any real meaning for the participants?

These reflections, sparked by witnessing Happening, led me to think then how one might actually approach working with a group of learners in a school to plan and prepare a happening, whilst also maintaining those qualities I felt, from personal experience, lie at the heart of happening. It also made me think about whether or not there were discourses which would explain the workings of happening when it is placed within an educational setting.←19 | 20→

These concerns are dealt with, in part, in the book, Happening in Education: Theoretical Issues (Blaszk 2017), where a theoretical path for happening is outlined. That study positions happening accordingly:

  • in relation to issues perceived to be important for education and schooling in the contemporary world;
  • as a performance practice based in the arts and/or real life;
  • as a practice that has inherent educational qualities linked to the space of the limen;
  • as a practice which, being different to drama pedagogy, has links to creativity and is rarely used in education.

Additionally, in the theoretical study, a research strategy based on bricolage and its implementation in a project to investigate happening in an educational setting is outlined. The problems encountered in trying to implement that research project are also described.

In this empirical study, data from that project is analyzed using the methodology proposed in the theoretical text. Furthermore, a number of the discourses presented in the theoretical study are applied here: outsider pedagogy (Rutkowiak 1997), multiple intelligences (Gardner 1999), creativity and creative pedagogy (Klus-Stańska 2002, 2006; Szmidt 2007; Sajdak 2008), education and democracy (Dewey 1966), critical pedagogy (Szkudlarek 2009), performative democracy (Matynia 2009) and border pedagogy (Witkowski 2000). Likewise, some of the issues that were raised as potential difficulties in the theoretical study proved to be problematic in practice and are described in this volume. These include the beginning of the research project and attempts to find a school with which to cooperate. It also comprises the differences between the first semester of the project and the second, where participant involvement and choice with regard to the happening sessions appeared to disrupt the original linear programme. In the main, however, this study describes the two school happenings and a pilot happening that were enacted as part of the research project, as well as happening project sessions that led to the two school happenings. In addition, it contains a number of sections where participant reactions to what occurred, as well as interpretation of these reactions, are given. The volume as a whole, is divided into six chapters and a conclusion, which are outlined below.

0.3. Outline of the Chapters

In Chapter 1, the aims of the research are given, along with a presentation of its form, place and duration. In doing so, the role of the pilot study is discussed and ←20 | 21→the setting up of the inquiry and data collection are outlined. In addition, some of the problems encountered and the influence they had on the final form of the research are given. This is followed by a consideration of the research methods and techniques used. As the research was carried out in English, the reasons for doing so and some of the implications this had for the project are given.

Chapter 2 starts with descriptions of the three happenings that were part of the empirical component of this study. These are followed by analyses placing each of the enactments in relation to the characteristics of happening and then a number of educational discourses. Because the happenings were the result of quite complex processes of planning and preparation, including co-operation with a school, in Chapter 3 the implementation of the happening project is described. Additionally, the different locations in which the sessions took place within the school are considered.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
particpatory research secondary school bricolage critical pedagogy liminal practice active involvement
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 234 pp., 41 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Martin Blaszk (Author)

Martin Blaszk holds a doctorate in Pedagogy from the University of Gdańsk (Poland), where he is employed at the Institute of English and American Studies. His research interests include happening, creativity in education and teacher education.


Title: Happening in Education – An Empirical Study
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